The Onlyness of the Career Open Scientist

Photo Credit: Denise Krebs on Flickr. CC by 2.0

“Through the power of onlyness, an individual conceives an idea born of his narrative, nurtures it with the help of a community that embraces it, and, through shared action, makes the idea powerful enough to dent the world” (Merchant, 2017)

PLEASE NOTE: This is a draft of a bit of the Open Scientist Handbook. There are references/links to other parts of this work-in-progress that do not link here in this blog. Sorry. But you can also see what the Handbook will be offering soon.

When we look ahead at some near-future, open-science-based academy, we can point to a new science workplace solidly anchored into its own logic, with internal values that reveal its core practices. Each open organization operationalizes these values locally.

Open science is aspirational because science is hopeful: it aspires to add significant new knowledge to human understanding. The open-science movement started with open access to research results. This struggle continues. The current pandemic may accelerate this process. Next, open science needs to move to implement cultural practices that enable Demand Sharing and Fierce Equality at all levels and organizations. Certain common notions about academy practices — certain notions inherited from decades of science infested by toxic cultural habits and perverse incentives — will need to be interrogated as open science looks to open cultural practices to shape how it changes in the future. Let’s examine some of these practices.

On Onlyness

But first. The notion of, and the term “onlyness,” is from Nilofer Merchant (2017), an entrepreneur/business consultant (See also: <https://nilofermerchant.com/>; Accessed May 12, 2020). Merchant penned this term to highlight how the quality of ideas in any group springs from the distinct contribution that each person can bring into conversation, when they speak from the totality of their own knowing and being (See: Knowing and conversation). She then outlines how to optimize for this potential. Most teams and organizations underplay, or worse, prohibit, this potential, asking team members to be flexible generalists and leave their individual genius at home. They ask their members/employees to “fit in” instead inviting them to belong on their own terms.

By locating “diversity” and “inclusion” in the distinct features of each individual, Merchant re-places the standard arguments for these values within teams and organizations. No tokenism permitted here. Instead, we find a keen respect for the distinct biographies of learning and knowing carried by each person in their whole being. As Merchant (2017) notes; “To claim yourself as whole is to assert your own value — not because everything about you is perfect but because it is all perfectly yours. This acceptance of your full self is nonnegotiable in claiming the power of onlyness. If you can’t value what you alone have to offer, no one else can either.”

Onlyness belongs to every individual to the extent they make a claim about it. It is not exclusive or elite; not just a property of egoistic narcissists. It does not automatically lead to assholish behaviors. It is not acquired from membership in a population cohort or a generation, even though it is socially attuned. It is informed throughout your biography, and includes what you alone can bring to your family, your society, and the planet. Einstein’s housekeeper had as much onlyness as did Einstein, only Einstein managed to explore and mine his to the advantage of his ability for creative insight.

Very much in line with recent theories of organizational knowledge management (See: Demand sharing and the power of pull), onlyness powers innovation and creativity within teams and projects by surfacing insights across vital conversations. This also amplifies the value of networks over hierarchies. No more deference to the highest paid person in the room. Each team member has a contribution to make to this conversation. Are you looking for better conversations (of course you are), then help each person explore and claim their onlyness.

Onlyness in learning

There is no textbook sufficient to map the individual’s journey into science. There is no common, model individual open scientist: no career best practice, no business-school recipe for success can identify which scientist will excel in their research endeavor. There is no “mold” for an open scientist. Like a concert violinist, a scientist must master techniques and become proficient in their practice and precise in their methods. But that’s more like saying they’ve stopped being children and are now adults. This is the admission price to enter the “knowledge club” (Accessed May 18, 2020) of science. This alone is not what drives their individual capacity for science. It’s their launchpad, not their fuel. You can teach methods and you can learn content. That gets you to the door of science. To open it, you need to apply your onlyness.

Onlyness here means deep and broad individuality and intellectual curiosity: open scientists are deep into their own specific passion and love for some aspect of science, and their own corner of the unknown in the infinite game of science (See: Open Science and the Infinite Game). Anyone who has completed a dissertation knows the onlyness — and also the loneliness — of understanding something deeper than their books, better than their advisors, and newer than anyone else. Open scientists are also broad enough in their sense of how science works and in the landscape of methods and literature to see the larger picture of open science practice shared in their discipline and beyond.

Onlyness is the reason why scientists can uncover astonishing new insights. By “scientists” here, we mean all students of science, all members of a science team (data nerds, technical specialists, grad students, and principle investigators), in fact, all people on the planet who find that their curiosity — and their own life-to-right-now — has moved them to a distinct point of understanding: “You’re standing in a spot in the world that only you stand in, a function of your history and experiences, visions, and hopes. From this spot where only you stand, you offer a distinct point of view, novel insights, and even groundbreaking ideas. Now that you can grow and realize those ideas through the power of networks, you have a new lever to move the world” (Merchant, 2017). Onlyness is why your dissertation nearly drove you insane, since it required you to dive deep into a personal journey of discovery that now means you know more — and you know differently — from anyone else on the planet.

If professional scientists act similarly, this similarity comes from the shared depth of their appreciation for the “role of ignorance and the importance of uncertainty” in science (See: Brain Pickings; Accessed May 5, 2020). Rather like we all are in the current situation (now being May of 2020), scientists are, and have always been, alone, even when together.

Onlyness and institutional fierce equality

Institutional prestige is a profound drag on the potential for networked science. If your administration has a plan to “win” the college ratings game, this plan will only make doing science harder. It makes being a scientist less rewarding. Playing finite games of chasing arbitrary metrics or bullshit prestige drags scientists away from the infinite game play of actually doing science. In a world where Science happens elsewhere the first thing your campus can do is become more attached to all the academy “elsewheres” that can amplify your in-house efforts. The best thing your campus can do is to became that really attractive “elsewhere” to which others want to attach themselves. This means opening up to demand sharing. Once science gets funded across a broad spectrum of institutions and across the globe, online collaboratives will form, and work together, and create new knowing without regard to game-able institutional rankings. The entire academy will become more nimble, creativity will quicken, and good work will find its rewards outside of current reputation schemes.

“One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love” (Saint-Exupéry, 1948; translation: <https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/08/25/sea/>; Accessed May 11, 2020).

The future of open science will be much more distributed and democratic. Open scientists work wherever their research and teaching acumen is needed and supported. The perverse lure of bullshit-prestige institutions disappears as great work emerges from highly diverse teams in hundreds of institutions and locales across the planet, and along the internet. Instead of boasting of their employment at some famous university or lab, open scientists and their in-house and online teams are deep into the infinite game wherever they are employed. They shape the culture of their teams, bending this toward fierce equality and demand sharing. Their combined onlynesses serves to push the team effort beyond what any one of them might do. They fill open repositories with new data and findings. They care for their work together, and for each other as people. They celebrate (Celebrate open science) their team culture. A great team in a sad organization with a toxic culture works better than a sad team in a great organization.

Onlyness against neoliberal organizational metrics

The notion that a university can increase managerial control over research practices using performance-based funding schemes, and so to capture year-by-year productivity gains, has been tried in various places on the globe. But the practice of top-down, goal-driven, productivity management translates poorly from the commercial world (where this is also failing) into the academy. Metrics applied in this manner are highly susceptible to Goodhart’s law, and subsequent gaming attempts. The best incentives for better science are those goods internal to the professional practices of doing science. The best way to improve on these is to support governance practices that open up more avenues for sharing and knowing.

There is an authentic “meritocracy,” here, not the artificial sort claimed by prestigious organizations. A fluid, dynamic, emergent shared sense of where new knowing is being forged. In the interconnected intellectual rooms of online science communities, the acceleration of knowing and discovery through access to open shared resources, active, global collaborations, and diverse team-building assembles shared intelligence to solve wicked problems. There is no organizational strategic plan, no business model, no tactical hiring that can match open innovation collaborative that push the boundaries and change the rules of their infinite games together. The merit belongs to the team, and to the work. What the scientists get is the joy and wonder of playing an infinite game that also pays a salary.

Open science optimizes resources when onlyness gets support across organizations

Doing open science gets a boost when the culture of open science is shared and celebrated at the top level of academy institutions — whether its a college, a university, a learned society, or a science agency. Under these circumstances, institutional values and their shared meanings cascade down across all departments, labs, and teams. With solid, top-level institutional support, teams build their own shared mini-cultures to encourage caring and rigor.

The cultural project of open science is actually quite small. As much as open science is just “science done right” and a “return to former science norms,” the professed culture of most science organizations really only needs to be rearticulated for open science use, and celebrated as an active, reflexive cultural layer (See above). Goals are left to teams to identify and activate for themselves.

All biographies of “notable scientists” spend a great amount of their content describing the onlyness of these individuals (without calling it that). Every “genius” you read about is someone who managed to tap into their onlyness and find insights into the infinite game (which is commonly referred to as a “serendipitous” event). Every one around them — these individuals are nearly always surrounded by colleagues — contributed to these conversations. They need to noted too.

Science organizations create prizes that fail to capture the onlynesses of teams and collaboratives

No scientist has ever refused a Nobel Prize. (NOTE: Two people have declined this. Jean-Paul Sartre did, because he was Sartre. And, Le Duc Tho did, because his award was shared with Henry Kissinger, who supported bombing Hanoi during Christmas.) Learned societies and professional academic groups offer a wide range of honors that scientists gladly accept (usually along with travel support to a meeting they would like to attend). Other honors come directly from universities or funding agencies. All of these honors fatten résumés and grease promotion portfolios around the planet.

Scientists crave the economic support they need to do the work they love. If they can translate honors into cash, they will do so. And yet, should these particular honors stop being awarded, there is little to indicate that science would be less rewarding or less able to track the value of science work. Open science offers to expand opportunities to find and use great science. New methods of acknowledging the work of scientists and teams, and also the provenance of research can replace or enhance how scientists get connected to each other through their work.

Great work in open science can be found anywhere on the planet, and also within any team working in an open-science organization, small or large. The gifts of new knowledge are freely shared, but they also obligate others to pay attention. applaud their value, and scorn those who seek attention for their own finite game (See: Gifting and Reciprocity). This is central to the culture of demand sharing. Recognize the work. Applaud the teams, the history, and the ideas. Show appreciation for how this knowledge is shared, without needing to pin this discovery on an individual scientist.

You can help your students grow their onlyness too

Growing and tapping into your onlyness is not just a trait that the best open scientists share, it’s a trait that open science needs to support, to grow, and to reward. Open science is the common work of millions of un-common individuals. The education of an open scientist requires a healthy dose of infinite-game training, the unleashing of purpose and imagination, and courage and caring in service of collective knowing. In the end, it is the game that becomes the teacher, and every scientist plays this alone, even within their team. Each scientist contributes the difference they have cultivated in their own insights to the collective knowing of their team.

To help your students develop their onlyness requires that you promote in them the courage to be essentially different from those around them, and also the honesty and humility to recognize the onlyness of others. Mainly you do this by working on your own onlyness and showing how this matters. Share conversations with them that provoke responses only they can provide. Be open to learn from their knowing.

Several authors in the past decades — from Foucault and Illich to Robinson and Godin — have pointed out that factory-style schooling diminishes onlyness (without calling it thus) in favor of standardized understandings and personal disempowerment. Open science will need to also work on the cultures of learning and teaching science. Like practical wisdom (See: The practical wisdom of doing science), onlyness needs to be exercised for it to grow.

Merchant’s work on onlyness was designed to help companies become more creative and innovative through the collective conversations of their employees, powered by an organizational culture that welcomed each of them to belong to these conversations in their wholeness. What she offers to businesses holds true for the academy, and most particularly in the academy, where onlyness powers great science through networked collaborations.

References:

Merchant, Nilofer. The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World. New York, New York: Viking, 2017.

The Congruent Scientist: Playing the infinite game builds personal wisdom

The aikidoka does not let distraction affect her kime 決め… her focus and attention. She is congruent in her form.

“Yet notoriously the cultivation of truthfulness, justice and courage will often, the world being what it contingently is, bar us from being rich or famous or powerful. Thus although we may hope that we can not only achieve the standards of excellence and the internal goods of certain practices by possessing the virtues and become rich, famous and powerful, the virtues are always a potential stumbling block to this comfortable ambition” (MacIntyre, 1984).

PLEASE NOTE: This is a draft of a bit of the Open Scientist Handbook. There are references/links to other parts of this work-in-progress that do not link here in this blog. Sorry. But you can also see what the Handbook will be offering soon.

Alasdair MacIntyre’s caveat rings true when applied to finite power games in and out of the academy. It’s the same “nice guys finish last” logic that your academic advisor may have given you; “practical” advice that many in the academy have used as an alibi against sharing their data and methods openly. Open scientists know better. This logic exposes how the external goods of the neo-liberal market are crowding out the internal goods so vital to the success of science as a practice. Nicholas Gruen (Retrieved February 21, 2020) puts it this way: “Here’s the serpent in paradise. External goods are necessary, but, at the same time, in tension with internal goods. This is an ethical tension. The risk is always that the pursuit of external goods compromises the pursuit of internal goods, and thus the excellence of the practice.”

Certainly, during the transition phase to open practices of Fierce Equality and Demand Sharing, there will still be games for external goods where the few consider themselves winners and all others as losers. The hyper-competition for scarce external goods in the academy is not going to simply disappear on its own. Today, dozens of open science endeavors have articulated alternative solution pathways for distributing external goods without supporting perverse incentives (Edwards and Roy, 2017; Bartling and Friesike, 2014). However, building alternative practices through intentional culture change takes time and effort. The open, infinite game of science treasures its abundant internal goods — including internal measures of recognition and modes of compensation — above money, fame, and glory. Something to remember when you have little of the latter.

One particular internal good in the academy happens when your work and your person become congruent. The practical wisdom you learn and apply to your research, and with your teammates, you can also use in your life with friends and family.

Background on the notion of congruence

In 1961, the psychotherapist Carl Rogers compiled three decades of papers into the book On Becoming a Person. The main frame of the book describes his client-centric approach to psychotherapy, how he arrived at this and what he learned as a practitioner, many of the articles — which read very much as blogs do today (and were unpublishable in the scientific journals for this reason). He then links this frame to other human endeavors. In particular, he looks to education and personal relations in organizations.

His main therapeutic process involves how the psychoanalyst as a person, develops her own personhood by becoming more congruent (more about this in a minute) and then uses this congruence as a communication tool to open up the client to the process of becoming more congruent. The therapist is really only someone further along the same road to “becoming a person.”

The process of becoming a person, of achieving more and wider congruence, and so having fewer and fewer defenses, brings the client to a better life, with less tension and fear, better communication with everyone, and new opportunities to explore each moment fully. For Rogers, congruence happens when one’s real self (the one we all start out with — all infants are congruent — also the one we can shape with our own skills and the virtues we learn) fully resembles one’s ideal self (the one we acquire from social interactions with others).

The lack of congruence leads to the need to defend the ideal self every time the real self behaves differently, or when people respond to the real self instead of the ideal self. The real self becomes hidden and, indeed, often unknowable; which forms the reason for therapeutic intervention. The goal of congruence is also extremely well aligned with the goal of “becoming a scientist:” congruence unlocks intellectual creativity.

Creativity in science is a self-therapeutic practice

“The mainspring of creativity appears to be the same tendency which we discover so deeply as the curative force in psychotherapy — man’s tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities.…This tendency may be come deeply buried under layer after layer of encrusted psychological defenses; it may be hidden behind elaborate façades which deny its existence; it is my belief however, based on my experience, that it exists in every individual, and awaits only the proper conditions to be released and expressed. It is this tendency which is the primary motivation for creativity as the organism forms new relationships to the environment in its endeavor most fully to be itself” (Rogers, 1961).

The ideal self represents the roles you acquire in order to play finite games in your life and career. For example, in your academic position, you are “The Scientist.” As Carse (1987) noted and Rogers might agree here, you have forgotten that you have the freedom to set aside your role. Quite the reverse: the role has become you. This is why you spend so much effort defending your ideal self/role, even (or especially) against your real self. How do you escape?

“[P]rogress in personal life and in group living is made in the same way, by releasing variation, freedom, creativity” (Rogers, 1961). The creativity you invest in the infinite game of science builds the capacity you can use to release your real self from the roles you play in finite games. You acquire the mindset of an infinite game player and become self-directed toward congruence. As Rogers notes:

“[T]he individual who is open to his experience, and self-directing, is harmonious, not chaotic, ingenious rather than random, as he orders his responses imaginatively toward the achievement of his own purposes. His creative actions are no more a chaotic accident than was Einstein’s development of the theory of relativity” (ibid).

Simon Sinek (2019) would add that your infinite game mindset is precisely what you need to succeed as a team member in 21st Century science.

Open science and an open you

How does the authenticity of doing science as an infinite game bleed over into your personal life? Can science really make you a “better person”? The skills you acquired to become a scientist, and the cultural practices of open science you are weaving into your work are tools you can use if you bring along the courage to seek change; “making courage part of your personal culture means you are always willing to keep making changes in your life until it is the life that you want and the life that you deserve. Courage in your life means you accept that there will be missteps — that constant and repeated change may be necessary, but that it is nothing to be ashamed of if it leads to a more fulfilling, positive outcome” (Dudley, 2018).

The intellectual tools of science, such as rigorous, reflexive curiosity, openness, and intellectual humility are available to the scientist for use in other circumstances. You can bring these skills home with you. The same kindness and humility you bring (one hopes) to your teaching and research can become an interactive style elsewhere.

On becoming an organization

“If things aren’t going right, the first response is: let’s make more rules, let’s set up a set of detailed procedures to make sure that people will do the right thing. Give teachers scripts to follow in the classroom, so even if they don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care about the welfare of our kids, as long as they follow the scripts, our kids will get educated. Give judges a list of mandatory sentences to impose for crimes, so that you don’t need to rely on judges using their judgment….Impose limits on what credit card companies can charge in interest and on what they can charge in fees. More and more rules to protect us against an indifferent, uncaring set of institutions we have to deal with” (Barry Schwartz, 2011 TED Talk<https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_using_our_practical_wisdom/transcript>; Retrieved 02/17/2020.

In the Handbook’s section on Learning Organizations, we discovered double-loop learning/governance. Double-loop governance maps directly into congruence at the organizational level: the so-called “ideal” organization being the first loop, and the real organization being the second loop. Instead of hiding the real organization behind the idealized intentions of the founder, or top-down rules and regulations derived from an imperious CEO or provost, double-loop governance makes the real organization available to every member. Each member has the same view and purview of the rules and roles, the values and the vision of the organization, and also an obligation to make these congruent with the everyday activities of the organization.

The notion that your organization can also be a therapeutic setting where members can learn to become more congruent may seem peculiar today, where management mainly promotes rule-governed compliance. Barry Schwartz tells us to stop already with the rules and use our everyday interactions to grow social and personal virtues:

“Rules and incentives don’t tell you how to be a good friend, how to be a good parent, how to be a good spouse, or how to be a good doctor or a good lawyer or a good teacher. Rules and incentives are no substitutes for wisdom. Indeed, we argue, there is no substitute for wisdom. And so practical wisdom does not require heroic acts of self-sacrifice on the part of practitioners. In giving us the will and the skill to do the right thing — to do right by others — practical wisdom also gives us the will and the skill to do right by ourselves. (Barry Schwartz, 2011 TED Talk<https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_using_our_practical_wisdom/transcript>; Retrieved 02/17/2020.

Remember also that organizational Knowing — the stock of sharable knowledge that defines your academic institution’s main research resource — is a series of conversations between two or more people. Knowing cannot be stored, only generated anew as each conversation leverages the prior ones. Your organization’s culture and governance sets up the circumstances at work where members can (or cannot) communicate effectively to share their insights and grow creativity. Mainly what they share is a specific, collective scientific ignorance.

“This [the shared ignorance in a scientific conversation] is knowledgeable ignorance, perceptive ignorance, insightful ignorance. It leads us to frame better questions, the first step to getting better answers. It is the most important resource we scientists have, and using it correctly is the most important thing a scientist does” (Firestein, 2012). Using open science and the infinite game, you can make your organization a place where each member can become more of a person. In return they will make your organization a better place in which to get science done.

Coda

You’ve likely met one or more congruent scientists. Someone who has engaged you in conversation at a workshop or conference. You walk away thinking, “She is so open and intellectually humble, knows so much, and asks really great questions. She must be such fun to work with.” You might have also sensed a wellspring of truthfulness, justice, and courage there. A corner of your ego might wonder what she thought of you. If you were playing the infinite game with her, and not trying to win points, she probably noticed.

You may also have visited a congruent organization (or, with great luck, you’ve ended up working in one), and come away wondering how they manage to avoid all the administrative bullshit you deal with every day. How do they sustain that level of creative interactions? How come everybody felt safe enough to say those things out loud? What does one need to do to get a job there?

In the Earth sciences, there’s a virtual organization called Earth Science Information Partners (ESIPfed.org). This is a great example of a congruent organization. A few years back, they hired an independent review organization to advise them what they could do to improve. The report came back: sorry, everyone who knows you, loves how you work right now. The reviewers were apologetic about not exposing a range of problems. ESIP has been a double-loop learning organization for two decades. It shows. Here’s an introduction to their bi-yearly gatherings.

The Open Scientist Handbook offers tools for you to become more congruent and to build congruent governance practices into your own academy home.

References

Bartling, Sönke, and Sascha Friesike, eds. Opening Science: The Evolving Guide on How the Internet Is Changing Research, Collaboration and Scholarly Publishing. Heidelberg: Springer Open, 2014.

Carse, James P. Finite and Infinite Games. Ballantine Books, 1987.

Dudley, Drew. This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters. First edition. New York: Hachette Books, 2018.

Edwards, Marc A., and Siddhartha Roy. “Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition.” Environmental Engineering Science 34, no. 1 (January 2017): 51–61. https://doi.org/10.1089/ees.2016.0223.

Firestein, Stuart. Ignorance: How It Drives Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

MacIntyre, Alasdair C. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.

Rogers, Carl Ransom. On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995.

Sinek, Simon. The Infinite Game. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.

Finite and infinite game science: what’s the difference?

Infinite gamers have more fun

PLEASE NOTE: This is a draft of a bit of the Open Scientist Handbook. There are references/links to other parts of this work-in-progress that do not link here in this blog. Sorry. But you can also see what the Handbook will be offering soon.

The distinction between playing with an infinite game mindset and playing with a finite game mindset allows us to unpack how a scientist might bring an infinite mindset to “actual science:” to all those finite games of power and scarce resources scientists play today in the academy. This handbook is all about changing cultures in the academy. Some of these changes are steps forward into new opportunities, others are steps back into the core of how science was done before the recent neoconservative managers arrived on campus. Let’s look at two personas: one, a die-hard finite game player, and the other, a scientist deep into the infinite game.

The finite-game player takes on the role of “The Scientist”

Below are some signs you might be playing the infinite game of doing science as if this were a finite game: playing with a finite-game mindset.

  • The role of “The Scientist” is just a role. You are free to throw this aside at any time. You always have this freedom. At some point you forgot this fact.
  • By forgetting you create a necessity to this role in your life: not for science, however, but for being The Scientist.
  • Entering grad school on a fellowship, you identified avenues of influence you could tap into: you picked a famous scholar to be your committee chair and selected a hot research topic, instead of one from your own interests.
  • You had three papers published by the time you completed your PhD. At least one of these used text “borrowed” from a colleague.
  • Your old committee chair had an inside track to a funding agency that you learned about and cultivated as a post-doc.
  • You jumped into an entry tenure-track position at a different university when your first research proposal was funded, taking your funding with you.
  • At annual meetings of your learned society, you work the publisher booths at to find a sympathetic editor at a high-prestige journal.
  • You push your funded research team of grad students, post-docs, and research staff to make discoveries, or hack the data, to fit the needs of the field’s top impact-factor journal.
  • You ignore those students who don’t perform to your demands and self-funded graduate students, who should realize they don’t belong.
    You shift your lab’s research focus in response to the funder’s new five year strategic plan.
  • When you take on peer review assignments, you are particularly harsh on any work that intersects your own but doesn’t cite you, while you soaked up any useful information about their research methods and findings.
    You leverage your funded research to minimize your teaching load, and you weasel the chair into handing over your undergrad survey class to adjuncts.
  • You use the same textbook for your upper division class that you had as an undergrad.
  • You grade easy to avoid hassles with undergrads.
  • Your graduate methods seminar class promotes your own methods, and critiques others.
  • The platform of your early career wins became a launching pad to grab career advantage over your peers. You search for other early-career winners, and avoid those who aren’t.
  • You constantly eye openings for jobs at higher ranked universities. You make sure you schmooze their department heavy-weights at learned society meetings.
  • You worm your way into volunteer leadership jobs at your learned society, hoping to fast-track recognition.
  • You sit on a couple of major campus-wide strategy committees, instead of curricular or other social committees.
  • Your chancellor gives you opportunities to speak at campus events, where you highlight the research findings you’ve maneuvered to be most glamorous.
  • You mold a social media persona around popular science issues.
  • You craft a high H-index by having your grad students write review articles, which you attach your name to as first author.
  • You haven’t done fully original research or used a new methodology in five years.
  • You carefully hoard your lab’s data, and only publish in journals that do not require open data.
  • You evaluate your colleagues as winners or losers, and steer clear of the latter.
  • You talk about meritocracy in the academy, and believe that’s why you got tenure.
  • You laugh off talk of “work-life balance.” Your work is your life.
  • You fit fully into the role of “The Scientist.” As it colonizes your future, the role of “The Scientist” becomes everything you are and ever wanted. But then you realize you haven’t yet been elected a fellow of your learned society. You worry that you haven’t spent enough time cultivating connections society board members.
  • You’ve never reflected on how your need to harvest your accumulated advantage impacted the quality of your science outputs, nor the career costs of the grad-students you’ve abandoned because they didn’t follow your lead. You never stopped to count the dreams you killed along the way.
  • Because you feel you must play The Scientist continually, you are unable to play science as an infinite game. There is no joy in your work. There is a constant fear that your research results will be proven illegitimate.

A few of the the above activities might be pursued as a finite game by a scientist with an infinite mindset (See: Science is an infinite game). Every scientist is confronted by an academy infested by conflicts of interest and internally validated perverse incentives. As open science works to change the culture, scientists must still forge their careers.

For every finite-game science player who “wins,” dozens more need to “lose.” Scarcity in the system demands this. “Losers” have their careers side-tracked at some point. Their dissertations do not result in high-impact journal articles. Their post-doc opportunities (if available) become dead-ends. The funding agency denies their last-chance research proposal. They migrate away from research institutions to other jobs in and out of academia. The enthusiasm and hope they brought with them as students no longer sustains the energy they need to compete in the finite games of science. They go off and do other work. This is one reason why science loses every time finite-game science player wins.

B) The infinite player does science and plays with the role of “The Scientist.”

Freedom of thought is a fundamental academic freedom. Because science is always shared, this first freedom includes freedom of speech. Freedom is central to infinite game play, where boundaries and horizons, rules and roles, histories and futures are all in flux. Freedom of thought is the infinite-minded scientist’s chief weapon against the silence of nature. Like water, science flows against nature and finds the low spots where new knowledge lurks. Freedom interrupts scientific rigor and intention with the serendipitous discovery.

The infinite player is fully aware that a finite academy game she agrees to play carries a role she admits only to others. She is never “The Scientist” even when she plays one. She does science. She wears the white coat. She shares her findings, her data, her methods, her ideas. She teaches classes that open up infinite play to her students. She talks about awe and about doubt, about method and precision, and how doing science is something more than doing anything else; and it is more, because she plays the infinite game. And when her corner of nature’s mysteries remains silent over months and year, she persists. She knows the game will last when she is gone.

There are finite games in which she has zero interest (to the annoyance of her Chair). She sees no point in crafting a “sexy” P-hacked paper for a high-impact journal. At conferences, she spends most of her time on conversation with students at their posters, or with a few colleagues who occupy the same corner of nature as does she. Chancellors and deans fail to recruit her to campus committees. She risks tenure by focusing on her teaching and her idea of research, on her students and their needs, and on the infinite play that fills her mind day and night. If she must leave this university, she will seek out a college somewhere, with the help of her ex-students, and continue to play.

Still, the innovative thrust of her experiments, the transparent rigor of her methods, the quality of her data (which she freely shares) and the unexpected results these reveal keep getting noticed. Despite her inattention to them, her metrics are stellar. Her generosity is widespread, and well known. She simply lets go of the science goods that are most important to her, knowing that others will remember, and send her new ideas to try out. She is a giver, a genius-maker:

“In Multipliers, former Oracle executive Liz Wiseman distinguishes between geniuses and genius makers. Geniuses tend to be takers: to promote their own interests, they ‘drain intelligence, energy, and capability’ from others. Genius makers tend to be givers: they use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities’ of other people, Wiseman writes, such that ‘lightbulbs go off over people’s heads, ideas flow, and problems get solved’” (Grant, 2013).

She was denied tenure at her university for ignoring many of the hoops through which she was expected to jump; and immediately hired with tenure at a different university, on the weight and the promise of her research, and the stories about her teaching and mentoring, volunteered from her ex-students. She commonly refuses awards and honors; she calls them distractions.

Even the awe and joy of infinite game play can be easily forgotten; scientists can get lost when they play only finite games with scientific methods and organizational power. These finite games pull their logics from other finite games outside of the academy. These logics tear the academy away from the freedoms that science needs to play its infinite game. The more that the academy is trapped into finite games, the less it gains through open sharing and new opportunities for collaboration and innovation.

The Just Cause(s) of Open Science

“In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate” (Isaac Asimov).

Open science exists to return the everyday life of scientists to infinite game play, to find paths to justice, and to support teaching and research opportunities for scientists everywhere on the planet, in any open institution that will house their work. Open science builds academy commons (plural) where scientists can govern themselves and their resources, maintain and care for their goods and each other, provision their work, and build an abundant future for the infinite game of science across the globe.

Playing the infinite game requires and rewards, demands and builds, encourages and exercises practical wisdom inside science. This type of caring, pragmatic wisdom can carry a scientist, a science team, a laboratory, a school, a university, an agency: any all academy organizations, toward open science, where sharing and caring a not reserved for losers. Where there are no winners, only players. And that is the whole point.

References

Grant, Adam M. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. New York, N.Y: Viking, 2013.

Science is an infinite game you can play

You’ve played this game all your life. When did you decide to stop?

“If there are at least two players, a game exists. And there are two kinds of games: finite games and infinite games.
Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game. Football, for example, is a finite game. The players all wear uniforms and are easily identifiable. There is a set of rules, and referees are there to enforce those rules. All the players have agreed to play by those rules and they accept penalties when they break the rules. Everyone agrees that whichever team has scored more points by the end of the set time period will be declared the winner, the game will end and everyone will go home. In finite games, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end.
“Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason….
Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as ‘winning’ an infinite game” (Sinek, 2019).

In Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse (1987) makes a number of statements about culture and nature, and about human endeavors that include a wide range (perhaps very wide) of everyday human situations.

Here we attempt to insert science as an endeavor into the scheme Carse outlined, with the purpose of grounding the norms of science — however these are described — within science’s infinite play with nature. Of course any scientist — as a biological organism — plays in nature at the same time she plays with nature. To play with nature as a profession is a privilege scientists all share. The finite games of finance or technology might bring in more (perhaps a lot more) money, but the struggle with universal unknowns has its own rewards. The infinite game, as we will see, also ties in complexity theories, emergent systems, explanation and narrative.

Today, science is an endeavor housed in organizations where we find game logics that are mainly finite (When is the next RFP coming out? What’s your H-Score?). This circumstance is in direct conflict with research needs that must — this is the main assertion here — include and support playing the infinite game of science.

Norms point to the infinite game

The notion of the infinite game of science may seem foreign to scientists coached to win finite games to secure their careers. And yet all attempts to capture the normative culture of science hint at an underlying, non-finite game. What we find today is an academy trapped in the contradictions between these two mindsets: the poetry of discovery, the awe of nature, the joy of intellection, and the satisfactions of mentoring have been pushed aside, displaced by the rush for reputation in a now-harshly-competitive system of scarce resources and narrow opportunities.

These contradictions have been noted for decades in articles and books that contrast science’s putative norms with the observable organizational practices of science. Sociologists and critics of science practice point to the realities of doing science in today’s world. “Science claims X, but in practice we find Y.” Ziman (2002) makes this contrast more than seventy times. These observations now share the discourse with a chorus of observations about “bad science:” unreproducible findings, plagiarized and repetitive science articles, ersatz statistics (p-hacking, etc.), systemic biases and conflicts of interest in funding and advancement, public distrust of science findings, and a profiteering publishing industry.

The reality of doing science today seems fundamentally out of step with how good science needs to happen. “Real science” is still distinguished by normative behaviors and values that are regularly called upon to counter deviation into “bad science” (See: Zimring 2019 <https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/were-incentivizing-bad-science/> Retrieved November 8, 2019). But when the incentives are perverse and pervasive, resistance is a challenge that overlays and undermines the challenges of doing infinite-game science. So, what happens when the reality of being a scientist fails to support “real science”?

Doing the right science or doing science right?

“When you rely on incentives, you undermine virtues. Then when you discover that you actually need people who want to do the right thing, those people don’t exist because you’ve crushed anyone’s desire to do the right thing with all these incentives” (Barry Schwartz in Zetter, 2009 <https://www.wired.com/2009/02/ted-barry-schwa/> Retrieved 12/16/19).

Much of the “How” science is played as an infinite game is discussed within the philosophy of science, and the “What” of science fills books in the sociology of science. The infinite game of science explores the “Why” and the also the “just causes” (Sinek, 2019) of science. The “Why” brings us a narrative of science up until this moment, which illuminates its horizon. Science’s just causes point us at the thousands of mysteries, the unknowns that scientists confront today; each mystery offers a bit of new knowledge to be discovered, and the benefits of new understanding. Every unknown also carries a moral load, and the need for judgement in pursuit of justice (more about this below), given that there are many consequences to new knowledge.

Mindsets and practices

Finite and Infinite Games goes into great detail to expose the two mindsets: finite and infinite. These are fundamentally different, and in ways that illuminate many of the issues plaguing the academy today. Here we note only a few key points. First, finite players (players with a finite mindset) play their roles in full seriousness, acquiring their parts as actual and necessary: even when they are always fully free to step out of their parts. They need to forget this freedom in order to play to win. This is really important to keep in mind: finite game players assume their roles as essential parts of who they are, even though they always have the freedom to abandon their role. This mindset lards the role of “scientist” with unnecessary seriousness.

On the other hand, players in an infinite game play with the rules, instead of assuming roles. These rules are constantly changing as players move the boundaries of the game. Infinite games are rule-creating games. The players do not need to accept a set of rules to play. Without stable rules, roles make no sense. Best practices do not apply. Every new experiment opens up its own horizon. In terms of complexity theory, the infinite game demands that you probe, sense and respond (Laloux, 2014, Kurtz and Snowden, 2003) each time you play.

When an infinite player (someone with an infinite mindset) plays a finite game within the infinite game, they do so fully understanding they are simply acting their role, and that they have the freedom to walk away. Yet they still have the capacity to play any finite game to its limit. They can accept the rules in order to play. However, winning or losing has no meaning for them. This may mean they play with greater freedom and abandon, improving their chance of winning.

To remind scientists that their research is an infinite game is to reconnect them to the “one long experiment” (Martin, 1998) that is science. Recent organizational management theories (Sinek, 2019) have put infinite game play and sense-making for complexity (Snowden, 2002; Kurtz and Snowden, 2003; Ito and Howe, 2016) at the center of their recommendations for 21st Century organizational governance. Getting good in the infinite game of science could also build skills that scientists can use to govern their labs, universities, and agencies.

This handbook will help you create new practices that can recenter your university’s values and vision around infinite game play as a strategy for long-term success. Open science is a cultural platform that will connect infinite game players across the globe. You and your organization can join this, or you can continue to play the same bullshit “excellence” games (Moore, et al, 2017; also Neylon[Retrieved Feb. 7, 2020]) you take far too seriously today. And have more fun in your research too.

Science is a war with one long battle

Science, the infinite game, was there with Aristotle and Plato, Bacon and Galileo. With Neuton and Boyle, Einstein and Feynman. And now here, this very moment, with every scientist in and out of the academy. The infinite game of science lies beneath the norms that Merton and others have used to delineate science’s core ethos. The infinite game stands behind every experimental hypothesis and laboratory method. Every time a scientist battles with some mystery of nature, the infinite game continues.

Science works toward horizons and not within boundaries. Scientists see boundaries around them and laugh as they violate these. They go beyond. Any scientist can change the horizon of science and modify the rules of science (for example, by improving a method of observation). Each change in the horizon of science changes the horizon of every scientist.

“The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt” (Feynman, et al, 2005).

The scientist eats unknowns, and is never full. She sweats doubt. The products of science are not science. These can be destroyed or forgotten and science will continue. Science means challenging the known. Scientists understand how little science knows; that the mysteries they face are mighty. Each scientist picks her own mystery, her own just cause to pursue.

“The earth’s history has been only long experiment, poorly constrained in a reductionist’s eyes. How impoverished the earth would be if had been otherwise” (Martin, 1998).

Science is nature made into poetry

No single scientist speaks for science. No scientist speaks for nature. The speech given by the award winner at the annual convention is not any more scientific than the poster presented by the graduate student. The questions of a student can negate an entire history of discovery.

Unlike the history of society where politics is theatrical and works to close its history (against culture, which keeps this open), the history of science is always dramatic. It is formed by events that must repeat themselves again and again while remaining open to failure, open to a moving horizon that might, and probably will, change and render them false. After that, they join the past history of science and are merely theatrical. One can repeat a failed experiment only as historical theater. The science present moves on in dramatic fashion.

The goods of science inform the knowledge inventory of the world within which science is played. They push science to remake its horizons. They are not unimportant to science but they are not science in the infinite game. Finite-science players want to own these products, in order to garland themselves with prizes. Prized science goods require durability for the value of their prizes to endure. Finite-science players choose to defend their own goods by silencing others and gathering supporters. They seek a past that is closed and known, with their own goods at its front end.

“One must keep in mind that senior faculty probably hold their current positions through their success in the game, which may or may not have been achieved by using the most ethical ways” (Chapman C.A., et al, 2019).

Infinite science players — who know their own research best — interrogate their own findings in search of a larger knowledge horizon. They push the game forward and their egos to the side. They open up to collaborations and seek out conversations with those who disagree with their findings.

Prizes bind science to a known past. This past is carried by science institutions, such as those learned societies that sponsor prizes. These societies also need to endure so that the prizes of finite-science players retain their value. Prize winners and “fellows” carry the weight if ensuring the society persists, warranting the currency of their prizes. However, the continuity of science is not based on an attachment to its past or even it current goods — on the closing of its history — but rather, on a continual openness to surprise, to experiment (Schulz, 2011). Science is based on the nearly universal ephemerality of its findings. Science has always been the child of an open history that will never close.

“[W]hat resounds most deeply in the life of Copernicus is the journey that made knowledge possible and not the knowledge that made the journey successful” (Carse).

Science doesn’t just have a culture. Science also is culture (in Carse’s sense). Like any culture, science is “itself a poiesis, all of its participants are poietai — inventors, makers, artists, storytellers, mythologists. They are not, however, makers of actualities, but makers of possibilities. The creativity of [science] has no outcome, no conclusion” (Carse; paraphrase).

Scientists are ImagiNatives. Poets of the natural world. Makers of possibilities. “It’s been said that science fiction and fantasy are two different things: science fiction, the improbable made possible; fantasy, the impossible made probable” (Rod Serling,“The Fugitive”. The Twilight Zone. Season 3. Episode 25. March 9, 1962. CBS.) Science is nature made into poetry.

“The physicist who sees speaks physics with us, inviting us to see that the things we thought were there are not things at all. By learning new limitations from such a person, we learn not only what to look for with them but also how to see the way we use limitations. A physics so taught becomes poiesis” (Carse).

You cannot do science alone in isolation; do science only in your own mind. This does not mean that you cannot be solitary in your imagination, but only that science happens when you share this with at least one other person. A poet who does not speak has no poetry to speak of. Science happens between and among infinite game players.

The infinite play of science allows no personal power or authority. In a finite game, power always requires opposition and an audience. Neither is available within science. In finite games, winning silences the loser. The personal power that a title conveys; this authority means nothing to science, and usually far too much for scientists. Competition feeds arbitrary power in the academy and defeats science itself, silencing the many to praise the few.

Finite games of prestige in the academy are failings of the academy. Finite games of personal influence and authority contradict the inherent authority of science methods. Scientists are known by their names, not their titles. If your method is transparent and well-founded, your science goods need no amplification beyond their public sharing. The audience that power seeks is not found in science. An infinite game allows no audience. There is no vote that can elevate one science good above another.

Science does not belong to any one society. Science flows across the globe. Change for science has no location, it is always everywhere. Change is always surprising, and so never a surprise. “To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated” (Carse). To invite and welcome surprise is to do science. Science creates its activities through fluid consensus, not from any established doctrine, but in response to surprises that happen whenever science moves its horizon.

“[As it is in nature, so] also in [science]. Infinite players understand that the vigor of [science] has to do with the variety of its sources, the differences within itself. The unique and the surprising are not suppressed in some persons for the strength of others. The genius in you stimulates the genius in me” (paraphrase: Carse).

Every science effort begins and ends in surprise. Because the next instant of knowing is always open, the moment of discovery is always surprising. This is a source of joy for the scientist. If the object of research were already known or fully predictable, the research is unnecessary. Reproducibility means that the same effort must result in the same surprise. The first effort exposes the scientist to this surprise. The second time gifts this surprise to science.

In the infinite game, science invests more authority on the rigor of its methods than it does in the sagacity of its practitioners. The results of well-constructed experiments are all discoveries, even when the results are null. Each experiment extends the horizon of the game.

Who wants yesterday’s findings?

The final page of science will never be written. A new finding is lightly penciled in after the previous paragraph on the current page. Every infinite player brings their own eraser to this book. Chapters long settled and well considered can be erased in a single day. That is a joy for science. New pages open up then. New horizons emerge. The game accelerates. More players find ways to add new paragraphs to this ledger. Ever since Bacon, yesterday’s findings hold less knowledge than tomorrow’s.

Scientific surprise is mainly retold as serendipity. Serendipity, the unexpected confluence of curiosity and sagacity, is just another way of announcing that scientists are playing the infinite game.

“The paradox in our relation to nature is that the more deeply [science] respects the indifference of nature, the more creatively it will call upon its own spontaneity in response. The more clearly we remind ourselves that we can have no unnatural influence on nature, the more our [science] will embody a freedom to embrace surprise and unpredictability” (paraphrase) Carse.

What is real science again?

“The notion that academic scientists have to be humble and disinterested… seems to contradict all our impressions of the research world. Scientists are usually passionate advocates of their own ideas, and often extremely vain” (Ziman, 2002).

We have all read studies and stories of “actual” science that highlight how scientists live and work in the “real world.” Today, scientists labor within the pragmatic circumstances of the increasingly neo-liberal academy — surrounded by an increasingly neo-liberal global economy: a world of intense competition for fame and funding, a space of accumulated advantages for a few, and increasing precarity for the rest. Yet the moments of science, the methodic but often serendipitous event of discovery, yank the scientist back into a different “real” — the real task of uncovering new knowledge about the actual “real world” — the natural universe. To do science is to play an infinite game with nature.

References

Carse, James P. Finite and Infinite Games. Ballantine Books, 1987.

Chapman, Colin A., Júlio César Bicca-Marques, Sébastien Calvignac-Spencer, Pengfei Fan, Peter J. Fashing, Jan Gogarten, Songtao Guo, et al. “Games Academics Play and Their Consequences: How Authorship, h -Index and Journal Impact Factors Are Shaping the Future of Academia.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 286, no. 1916 (December 4, 2019): 20192047. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.2047.

Feynman, R.P., J. Robbins, H. Sturman, and A. Löhnberg,. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Nieuw Amsterdam, 2005.

Ito, Joi, and Jeff Howe. Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future. Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

Kurtz, Cynthia F, and David J Snowden. “The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-Making in a Complex and Complicated World.” IBM Systems Journal 42, no. 3 (2003): 462–483.

Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the next Stage in Human Consciousness. Nelson Parker, 2014.

Martin, Ronald E. One Long Experiment: Scale and Process in Earth History. Columbia University Press, 1998.

Moore, S., C. Neylon, M.P. Eve, D.P. O’Donnell, and D Pattinson. “‘Excellence R Us’: University Research and the Fetishisation of Excellence.” Palgrave Communications 3 (2017): 16105.

Schulz, Kathryn. Being wrong: Adventures in the margin of error. Granta Books, 2011.

Sinek, Simon. The Infinite Game. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.

Snowden, David. “Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self-Awareness.” Journal of Knowledge Management 6, no. 2 (2002): 100–111.

Ziman, John. Real Science: What It Is and What It Means. Cambridge University Press, 2002.